The Church ¡En Fuego!

November 18, 2011

By Carl Stagner

Call 9-1-1! A church is on fire—for Jesus Christ. In Spanish, en fuego para Cristo. The passion for Christ and his kingdom has never been stronger among the Hispanic congregations of the Church of God. Our Spanish-speaking churches are perhaps the fastest-growing in the movement. For Jorge Palacios and the Iglésia de Dios (Church of God) Shalom in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, this is something to celebrate.

For Jorge Palacios, the Christian walk has long been about carrying out the Great Commission. As a youth in the Church of God in San Salvador, Palacios committed his life to the Lord. Under the tutelage of Tito Ayala—missionary and pastor who planted more than eighty churches in El Salvador—Palacios developed a deep desire to see the expansion of the kingdom of God. Ayala encouraged and mentored young Palacios, while God prepared Palacios for a future in church planting.

After legally immigrating to the United States, and after serving the Iglésia de Dios in Washington, DC, the Hispanic Council (the Concilio) of the Church of God asked him to consider planting a church in the Bensalem area to the north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. About twelve years ago, Palacios accepted the call and the work began.

There were many tempting, empty storefronts in Bensalem available for rent, but in the Hispanic culture, the traditional church building is revered. There was another obstacle. No Church of God congregations were already established on the north side of Philadelphia. The established congregations were too far away from their target community to be practical. “So we knocked on the door of an Episcopal church,” Jim Johnman, Hispanic promoter for Church of God Ministries explains. At that time there were more than fifty thousand Hispanics living in that community, and the leaders of the Episcopal church replied, “Come on in! We’ve been wondering how we could reach the Hispanic families!”

The Episcopal church agreed to rent the building for only fifty dollars a week! Under the leadership of Palacios, the congregation outgrew the church building in only seven years. They rented a larger building and conducted a building fund campaign. In the end, they purchased that same Episcopal church (which had gone up for sale and was estimated to be worth more than six million dollars) for just one million dollars. How could a rapidly growing church fit in the building they outgrew? The church now holds multiple services each weekend, and they plan to begin construction on the surrounding six acres of land. On Sunday, November 6, they had their first worship service in their newly purchased facility.

Johnman believes that Iglésia de Dios Shalom has experienced so much growth because of Palacios’s passion for evangelism. “His desire was not to build a church from other churches, but to invite people to receive Christ. He also trained his leaders to win the lost to Christ. As a result, the church grew rapidly.”

Palacios’s passion is matched only by the community’s need for a Hispanic outreach. The congregation intentionally reaches out to first-generation Spanish-speaking families. These families understand very little English, and desperately need to hear the gospel in their native language. In addition, many of these families have no connection to their community other than the Spanish-speaking Church of God, in which they feel welcome.

Like Pastor Ayala in El Salvador, Palacios now mentors those God has called under his leadership. Seven of his associates have gone on to plant churches across the country. And his current associate, José Gomez, has accepted the call to plant a new Spanish-speaking church in the Columbus, Ohio, area.

This story is an example of Strategic Value One: Ignite! Revitalizing the Great Commission in the life of every individual, church, and agency (Matt 28:19–20).